Meet the Special Hematology team

Apr 28, 2016 | News

What is special hematology?

We are a team of 8 Medical Lab Technologists with a combined total of almost 200 years of experience in Hematology. Besides being pretty special people ourselves- we are called Special Hematology to differentiate our subsection of the clinical lab from the Routine Hematology work area where the blood cell counts, peripheral blood microscopic review and routine coagulation tests are performed. Samples which have abnormalities identified in the routine Hematology area are referred to Special Hematology where we perform more complex tests which aid in the diagnosis and treatment of Hematological disorders such as leukemia, lymphoma, anemia, and bleeding and clotting disorders

What sort of schooling do you have to take to do what you do?

Currently the training for MLT is a 3 year program through BCIT which includes 1 year of practical training in a clinical lab. Many procedures in our area are not covered in this training so after obtaining additional experience in routine Hematology we transitioned into the specialty area where we received further training and practical experience. School was a while ago for most of us but we find we never stop learning in our constantly evolving technical environment.

Tell me about a day in the life for your team

In our area there is always something interesting going on and we can’t always predict what a day will hold. It will usually include attending a bone marrow biopsy to prepare slides from the liquid portion of the bone marrow at the bedside. Back in the lab these slides are stained and the cells are examined under a microscope. Our Hematopathologist uses the results of our analysis to make a diagnosis of a blood disorder such as leukemia.

We also run tests to diagnose and monitor treatment of patients with inherited or acquired bleeding and clotting disorders such as Hemophilia or Thrombosis. We analyze samples from all over the province and work closely with St. Paul’s Hemophilia clinic.

Our Technologists also use flow cytometry (a method of labelling the antigens on a cell’s surface with a fluorescent monoclonal antibody) to analyze cells isolated from blood, bone marrow, or tissues. This aids the Hematopathologist in identifying malignant cell populations for the diagnosis of hematological diseases. This type of analysis is also used to test the CD4 level of HIV positive patients to help monitor their anti-retroviral treatments. We are the provincial center for CD4 testing and run over 20,000 tests per year – so that keeps us pretty busy day to day.

Of course we always make time for a coffee break- you can find us in the west section of the cafeteria at 9:00 most mornings.

How long does it take to study, diagnosis and treat one blood sample?

It really varies. It can take just a few minutes to identify abnormal blood cells in a peripheral blood smear on the microscope but sometimes it may require days to figure out what those abnormal cells actually are. Under the direction of the Hematopathologist we may organize other procedures such as a bone marrow biopsy, initialize a panel of tests on the flow cytometer or refer out specimens to a more specialized aboratory. One of the most important factors that affects the amount of time to make a diagnosis is excellent communication and collaboration with other clinical teams and departments in the hospital.

What is the most satisfying part of the work that your team does?

Knowing that we directly affect patient care by constantly striving to produce quality results which lead to a correct diagnosis and treatment.

The most challenging?

In the lab we have minimal contact with patients – sometimes we may get caught up in how interesting a case is and forget that there is actually a person and a family attached to this sample and this serious diagnosis.

In addition, because we don’t get out of the lab very much we sometimes feel as if we are invisible to the public and even other medical professionals and that the value of our work is not fully recognized. We appreciate opportunities like this one to let people know what really happens in the lab.

Why Providence?

We have all been with Providence for many years and are well acquainted with the long history of commitment to caring for all people. Some of us were here in the 1980’s when HIV was just becoming recognized. We recall that while other labs in the city were reluctant to work on patients suspected of having the infection, Providence welcomed these patients. Now our Centre for Excellence in HIV?AIDS is the leader in HIV treatment and research. We feel proud to be part of an organization like this.

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